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E/I, which stands for "educational and informational," refers to a type of children's television programming shown in the United States. The Federal Communications Commission requires that every full-service terrestrial television station in the U.S. air at minimum at least three hours of these television programs every week to retain their station license. The E/I program requirements were enacted as part of the Children's Television Act of 1990.
In addition, stations must identify such shows on-screen with an "E/I" bug in a corner of the screen, usually either in the form of plain text or an icon as seen to the right; some display it in appealing or "child-like" fonts. Originally, this was displayed only during the first minute of the program, or, as a separate announcement prior to the program, but since 2004, all E/I shows must display the icon during the entire duration of the show, except during commercial breaks.
This requirement only applies to commercial broadcasting television stations. Cable television channels are exempt from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) television programming regulations, although some do place an "E/I" bug or descriptor on their educational programs, mainly to stick out within children's sections of electronic program guides. Colleges offer distance education, a curated form of educational television, which is unique to Public, educational, and government access (PEG) cable television channels, and is carried by some public television stations.
In 2005, the E/I rule was altered again, in relation to digital terrestrial television broadcast; all full-service stations with digital signals must carry the minimum weekly 3 hours of E/I programming on all its digital channels, regardless of the type of content they carry (such as news, weather, etc.).
In 2007, the digital subchannels' involvement in the E/I rule was changed again, depending on the number of free services offered by the station—the station now must carry more than three hours of E/I programming, but how much more is determined by how many hours of "free programming" the station offers in digital. For every 28-hour period of free programming offered on the subchannels, the station must add an extra 1/2 hour of E/I programming, in addition to the 3 hours required on the main signal.
What constitutes the shows as "E/I"
What constitutes the shows as "E/I" is determined by the Federal Communications Commission, which enforces the regulations. The agency took a more hands-on role in enforcing the rules in 1996, after the first few years of the act were ineffective as stations claimed programs like The Jetsons, The Flintstones, G.I. Joe, daytime talk shows and Leave it to Beaver had educational elements.
At regular intervals, each full-service station submits a list of programs that it either airs now or plans to air which it feels will inform, as well as entertain, viewers below age 18, and must occasionally announce on-air that this public file is available to the public at the station's studios, and/or on the station's website.
All children's television programming is subject to limits on the amount of advertising. Stations can air no more than 12 minutes of ads each hour on weekdays and 10½ minutes an hour on weekends.
In addition, the FCC also has a very strict policy that an advertisement for a product tie-in for the program being aired is not allowed in any form, or else the entire program will be classified automatically as a violating half-hour program length commercial according to the FCC's definition, even if one second of a show's character or reference is seen in an advertisement. The individual station has the responsibility to comply with the standards and regulations and report instances of it happening within their quarterly children's programming report, even if the programming is transmitted by a television network.
This has been demonstrated through several incidents where episodes of Pokémon airing on the former Kids' WB network featured references to products such as Eggo waffles, Fruit by the Foot, and the Nintendo Game Boy Nintendo e-Reader accessory mentioning their products having a tie-in to the Pokémon franchise on the air. The FCC has fined individual affiliates of Kids' WB for the violation of the guidelines and upheld the fines on appeal, even though it was the television network which transmitted the content.
Meanwhile, promotion for related websites are allowed only under certain circumstances and must specify that the linked site is meant as an advertisement, and must be in compliance with the COPPA Act regarding personal information acquisition for advertisers online for children under thirteen years of age.
When the FCC announced the new requirements, local stations tried to repackage existing children's shows as educational and informational, such as Hearst Television distributing Cappelli & Company, a children's program from their Pittsburgh station WTAE-TV across their broadcasting group, while Sinclair Broadcasting Group aired (Girl) Scouting Today from WPGH-TV (also based in Pittsburgh) on many of the chain's stations across the country to meet E/I requirements. The FCC turned down many of the requests. On the other hand, producers of true educational shows suddenly found a new market for their products, and reruns of shows like New Zoo Revue and Big Blue Marble suddenly became available on small-scale independent stations, which normally air religious shows, infomercials and home shopping programs. However, enforcement remains somewhat capricious: KDOC, an independent in Irvine, California and Green Bay's WLUK have both been allowed to count reruns of the 1970s TV series Little House on the Prairie as an E/I show, due to its historical depiction of frontier life in the 19th century and its connection to the popular elementary-school book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, though the show was not originally intended for that purpose (WLUK discontinued Little House in September 2013 due to schedule shifts on weekdays). Also, Pax's talent showcases (America's Most Talented Kids) and animal rescue documentaries (Miracle Pets) were also counted toward the "E/I" requirement, with Pax giving them an unofficial and not binding "rating" of "TV E/I".
Likewise, PBS's PBS Kids, ION Television's qubo, and Trinity Broadcasting Network's Smile of a Child digital subchannel networks feature educational programming throughout their 24 hour schedules, and those networks display their E/I bug across most programming, including program promotions and pledge appeals. Because of the large amount of E/I programming seen on PBS stations which is well over the guidelines in most cases, public television subchannel networks such as Create and World do not carry their own blocks of E/I programming within their main network feeds.
Many of Discovery Kids' programs also included an E/I bug, and likewise their successor network The Hub uses E/I bugs and program guide metadata, even though the channel is available strictly on cable and satellite, possibly to have the programs stand out in the children's sections of electronic program guide listings search applications as having E/I content; however some programs, such as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have dropped the E/I mark in subsequent seasons to accommodate references and plots which appeal both to children and an unexpectedly adult audience. Cable networks are exempt from federal regulations regarding E/I programming, and mainly their contributions which meet E/I have been limited in recent years to the declining Cable in the Classroom initiative or selling archive programming through online educational portals.
In the case of the Big Three television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) and their affiliates, they eventually replaced their traditional Saturday morning cartoon lineup with E/I-compliant programming, usually by forming a partnership with another company. For example, Discovery Kids originally presented a Saturday morning, E/I-friendly block on NBC from 2002 to 2006. In 2006, parent company NBC Universal along with ION Television and others formed the multi-platform Qubo to air children's programs on NBC, Telemundo, and a separate digital subchannel network usually found on the DT2 signal of most Ion stations. In September 2011 ABC replaced their ABC Kids lineup (which by then only featured a limited pool of Disney Channel Original Series episodes which had remained unupdated for years) with Litton Entertainment's Weekend Adventure, which is under a unique syndication agreement with ABC. CBS replaced their block in 2006 with one from DiC Entertainment, which in subsequent years has become a part of Cookie Jar Group, and is now known as Cookie Jar TV.
Both of 21st Century Fox's networks, Fox and MyNetworkTV, leave virtually all of the E/I burden to the affiliates themselves, and those stations must purchase E/I-complaint programming off the open syndication market from providers such as Entertainment Studios, DHX Media, Telco Productions or Litton Entertainment. (Fox does offer MLB Player Poll as an E/I program during baseball season.) During the years of Fox Kids and the later time leased 4Kids TV, only an hour to half hour was set aside in those blocks for E/I content. The CW has only maintained one hour of E/I content in its Vortexx block as well as its predecessors Toonzai and CW4Kids, although in years past its predecessor Kids' WB carried the full federal minimum. Spanish language network Univision provides a full E/I schedule via their Planeta U block, which features licensed Nick Jr. programming with the program's Spanish dub track meant for Nickelodeon's Latin America networks.
Exemptions from the rule are rarely allowed by the FCC beyond unusual weather or breaking news situations which force stations to cover that rather than meet guidelines; Olympic Games and Ryder Cup coverage from NBC was adjusted so that their qubo block could air in some form throughout the week for their stations to receive their E/I credit, while the ABC Kids lineup aired on Saturday afternoon instead on the network due to early morning coverage of The British Open/Open Championship in early July through 2009 (it has since moved to ESPN wholly as of 2010), or on the Pacific Time Zone on Sunday mornings due to early ESPN College Football coverage on Saturday mornings; likewise the NBC Kids lineup began to be split between Saturday and Sunday in eastern markets beginning in August 2013 due to NBC's coverage of the English Premier League's late Saturday (early afternoon in the United States) games. According to FCC records, TBN has received exemptions for their stations in the past due to their Praise-a-Thon telethons.
Digital subchannel networks may also provide the required E/I programming for their stations such as various programming on the Retro Television Network, Live Well Network, Antenna TV, Me-TV and This TV providing E/I programming on their channels (in the latter two cases, programming originally produced for the network owner's flagship station). Effectively this is almost a requirement for subchannel carriage by most stations, which would rather have the E/I programming within the network schedule rather than having to purchase and run E/I programming on their own. However in the case of test subchannels carrying only SMPTE color bars or a still screen featuring station identification text, the E/I requirements do not apply in these situations.
NBC Weather Plus aired Weather Plus University, an educational program about weather and meteorology, whilst continuing to show current weather conditions inside the trademark "L-bar" on the left and bottom sides of the screen. Independent local weather subchannels, such as the Stormcenter 2 24/7 channel on WBAY-DT2 in Green Bay, Wisconsin balanced out the requirements of the new rules by airing educational programming while airing their regular newscast on their main channel in order to keep viewers informed about the weather and meet the E/I needs of their license (in that case at 5pm weekdays and Saturday mornings at 8am); in September 2012 those three hours were moved to WBAY's DT3 channel affiliated with the Live Well Network, which carries six hours of E/I content per week to allow the weather subchannel 24/7 coverage. Some other stations however pulled digital subchannels entirely due to the regulations, such as WPRI/WNAC in Providence, Rhode Island making their digital weather channel cable-only to get around the regulations.
Currently affiliates of The Local AccuWeather Channel must provide their own E/I programming, thus disallowing them from carrying the data feed for that channel in most cases for that channel for the three hours.
The Tube Music Network, which carried the program Wildlife Jams to meet the E/I guidelines, went off the air on October 1, 2007. A factor in the network's demise may have been a decision by Sinclair Broadcast Group to reduce their E/I liability; stations in the group have in the past been cited in media studies as carrying the absolute minimum of E/I programming possible. Sinclair launched the network on their stations in March 2006, and then pulled the network from all of their stations at the end of 2006 because of various new FCC requirements for digital subchannels, not only for E/I, but also for the Emergency Alert System, along with the digital transition making coordination of E/I programming difficult at the time. Sinclair resumed airing non-netlet subchannels in September 2010 with the launch of carriage of both TheCoolTV (since removed) and Zuus Country, which provide the requisite Saturday morning E/I programming within their transmission feeds, and most station groups now maintain centralized master control centers, making airing a set of E/I programs easier across a large geographical area.
All programming that is to count toward E/I requirements must air between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. local time. (This has the unintended consequence of making the weekday cartoons that aired during the 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. hour, before children left for school, no longer viable for reaching a general audience; by 7 a.m. in many places, children have already boarded school buses.) The law allows networks to air E/I programming in the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. time slot on weekdays despite the fact that most children five years of age and older are at school. Taking advantage of this loophole, some commercial stations interested only in malicious compliance with the regulations show E/I programming only during this time slot (often going further and tent-poling their E/I shows with infomercials before and after so that they are almost certain to be overlooked). The three remaining major networks to provide E/I content, ABC, CBS and NBC, air their E/I programs in what was traditionally the last half of the Saturday morning cartoon block, with the first half being devoted to morning shows, both national and local.
- PDF (394 KiB)
- O'Connor, John J. (March 8, 1993). "Review/Television; For Young Audiences, Reality in the Afternoon". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
- Form "FCC KidVid 398" (Quarterly Children's Programming Report) Filing Database by call letters
- FCC: Consumer Facts about Children's TV
- American Public Television: Distribution Services (includes E/I info)